Saturday, September 2, 2023

The Failure of Matriarchy

Ta'Kiya Young was shot and killed by police in the parking lot of a grocery store on August 24th. She was 21 years old, a mother with two kids at home, 6 and 3, and seven months pregnant with a third, due to be born in November. Ta'Kiya was already in the driver’s seat of her car when officers approached the vehicle and ordered her to get out. When she asked why, she was informed that store employees claimed she had stolen items. One officer stood at her window while a second positioned himself in front of the car and drew his service weapon. Ta'Kiya placed the car in drive and began to accelerate forward, driving the officer who was in front of the vehicle backwards. After shouting orders for her to stop, the officer fired one round, striking Ta'Kiya. The car subsequently rolled into the front of the store, at which time officers broke the driver’s side window to gain entry and began administering medical aid, assisted by an emergency physician who was also at the scene. Ta'Kiya was transported to the hospital where she died. 

The bodycam footage of the incident has now been released (HERE).

Ta'Kiya’s grandmother, Nadine, reported that Ta'Kiya was “family-oriented” and loving and told the local news: “It shouldn't have ever, ever, ever happened. She shouldn't be gone. It was just wrong.” Thus far there has been no word from Ta'Kiya’s husband, or father, or any mention of either man.

This is a tragic story, one at which every person who hears of it should lament. The grocery store reported to the police that Ta'Kiya had shoplifted alcohol, but who could believe that a 21 year old mother who was seven months pregnant with her third child would be drinking alcohol at that stage of pregnancy, much less stealing it? No doubt she was frightened when confronted by police, and when they ordered her to get out, Ta'Kiya made an adult decision to deescalate the situation by putting her car in gear and stepping on the accelerator. The officer who chose to stand in front of her car was obviously foolish. Didn't he know that doing so would make it difficult for her to leave the scene? Why didn't he accept the consequences of his bad decision and allowed Ta'Kiya to run him over rather than firing his gun at her?

Now Ta'Kiya is dead. So is her unborn child. The family’s lawyer said in an interview with the AP that Ta'Kiya was “murdered unjustifiably” and insisted: “She is the victim here, and we demand accountability for the loss of two precious lives — Ta'Kiya and her unborn daughter.” It is refreshing to see the unborn child counted as a human life and victim in this particular incident, even if it is in the context of human tragedy.

Where is Ta'Kiya’s husband? Where is the man (or men) who fathered her three children? Where is her father or her grandfather? Did they try to counsel Ta'Kiya? Did they counsel her when she became a teenage mother, twice? Did they talk to her about how to respond to police encounters? Have any of them spoken to Ta'Kiya’s grandmother, who is understandably distraught, and ask her not to speak to the media? Did any of them think to rebuke the family attorney, Sean Walton, or suggest that blame for this tragedy might lie elsewhere: with Ta'Kiya, with her family, and with the men who failed to guide and protect her?

It should not be surprising that this shooting is being referred to as “murder” when we see news footage every week of stores being looted without any visible resistance from employees or public safety authorities. Ta'Kiya’s family and surviving children are not the only ones who will live forever in the shadow of her shooting. So too will the two police officers and their families, so will the store employees who reported her for shoplifting, so will the doctor who tried to save her life in the parking lot and healthcare workers at the hospital who did what they could before she died. Two boys will grow up without a mother. Who will take care of them now? Will it be the same people who raised Ta'Kiya and who are characterizing her as a victim and her death as murder?

Ta'Kiya’s death is tragic on many levels, and it reinforces the fact that family structure, child rearing, and mentorship are matters of life and death. Ta'Kiya was practically a child herself, yet she was already the mother of three. She should have been painting a nursery for her daughter. Instead she was at a store gathering bottles of alcohol. The family attorney says that a witness will testify she put the bottles down inside the store before she left, but if that proves true, it only makes her attempt to flee all the more tragic and unnecessary.

Ta'Kiya did not have to get out of the car. She could have left it in park, turned off the engine, and asked the officers to let her call her dad. I wish her father had been there or her husband. I wish one of them had gone to the store in her place to get whatever alcohol they thought they needed. Ta'Kiya certainly did not need any, nor did her unborn child. I wish she had talked to the officers. I wish she had not tried to hit a police officer with her car. I wish none of the parties involved had to be in that situation or to live with the consequences that they do now.

Where was Ta'Kiya’s husband? Where was her father? Where are the men in the family willing to stand up and take responsibility for what occurred? If they are there, why are they simply standing by? Matriarchy does not strengthen human families; it weakens them. It leaves them vulnerable, exposed to dangers of all kinds, including the dangers of self-deception and self-justification about one’s own righteousness. 

Ta'Kiya did not have to die that day, but it is not the police officer’s fault that she did. He will live the rest of his life regretting that he pulled that trigger, and Ta'Kiya’s family should live the rest of their lives regretting that she pressed the accelerator of her car. Ta'Kiya’s memory is not well-served by a grandmother who makes excuses for her or a lawyer who refers to police officers as her murderers. But if there are no men to lead, to step in and say enough, to protect young women even if it must be from themselves, then this story that will continue to recur. May God have mercy upon Ta'Kiya’s family and those officers, and may America repent of the kind of matriarchy that creates such tragedy. ---JME

Friday, August 25, 2023

Absurd Clergy, Awesome Christ

You may have noticed that clergymen in 18th-19th century British novels are often absurd characters. Mr. Collins in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a good example of this. 

Mr. Collins was punctual to his time, and was received with great politeness by the whole family. Mr. Bennet indeed said little; but the ladies were ready enough to talk, and Mr. Collins seemed neither in need of encouragement, nor inclined to be silent himself. He was a tall, heavy-looking young man of five-and-twenty. His air was grave and stately, and his manners were very formal. He had not been long seated before he complimented Mrs. Bennet on having so fine a family of daughters, said he had heard much of their beauty, but that, in this instance, fame had fallen short of the truth; and added, that he did not doubt her seeing them all in due time well disposed of in marriage….

They were not the only objects of Mr. Collins’s admiration. The hall, the dining-room, and all its furniture, were examined and praised; and his commendation of everything would have touched Mrs. Bennet’s heart, but for the mortifying supposition of his viewing it all as his own future property. The dinner, too, in its turn, was highly admired; and he begged to know to which of his fair cousins the excellence of its cookery was owing. But here he was set right by Mrs. Bennet, who assured him, with some asperity, that they were very well able to keep a good cook, and that her daughters had nothing to do in the kitchen. He begged pardon for having displeased her. In a softened tone she declared herself not at all offended; but he continued to apologize for about a quarter of an hour.

I do not think it is possible to really read Pride and Prejudice without grins and periodic guffaws (or more feminine giggles, if you are a lady). Mr. Bennet later compliments Mr. Collins on his talent for “flattering with delicacy,” and the ridiculous rector explained:

“They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time; and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.”

Of course, Mr. Collins was an Anglican—what the Presbyterian Mattie Ross in Charles Portis’s mid-20th century American novel would derisively call a “kneeler”—but his horror at reading novels would have found approbation among the Scottish Covenanters, even if they would have never approved of him.

By tea-time… Mr. Bennet was glad to take his guest into the drawing-room again, and when tea was over, glad to invite him to read aloud to the ladies. Mr. Collins readily assented, and a book was produced; but on beholding it (for everything announced it to be from a circulating library) he started back, and, begging pardon, protested that he never read novels. Kitty stared at him, and Lydia exclaimed. Other books were produced, and after some deliberation he chose “Fordyce’s Sermons.”

Of course he did. If you fail to get the joke, look up the two volumes published by James Fordyce (another Presbyterian) in 1766. Whether you scowl or chuckle, you will know who you are in the story.

Now there is a good reason that clergymen are portrayed as somewhat ridiculous in these novels, and it is not only that some of the authors were a bit worldly in their character. It is that clergymen often have been ridiculous. Like Mr. Collins, they can sometimes be stuffy, self-important, and ingratiating. Many of them were, and are, absurd. If I had a dollar for every minister I know who is slightly effeminate, I would have a lot of dollars.

Now compare this image to the OT prophets. How does Mr. Collins measure up to Moses, Elijah, or Jeremiah? Can you imagine Amos amusing himself in his downtime by “suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions”? What about the meek and gentle Jesus whose hands were strong and calloused from carpentry and who was known to flip over tables and run people out of the Temple with a whip on occasion? (We have been assured by our theological betters that the Lord would not have used the whip on any people. He only waved it around to scare them.) How would Mr. Collins and his brand of winsome, womanish, womanizers compare to the apostle Paul, his body scarred from being whipped and stoned, his eyes dim and his voice quiet but his pen sparking like fire? What might we say about Polycarp, Ignatius, Athanasius, St. Nick, St. Patrick, John Knox, and John Paton? The truth is God’s men throughout history have been men, not soft bellied milquetoasts who happen to be male.

The fact is that Christian religion in the West has been increasingly feminized for centuries. Listen to the difference between the ancient psalms and medieval hymns and the 19th century revival tunes. Can you understand how we now have contemporary “Christian” music that sounds like a Taylor Swift song? In most churches that I have served over the last 25 years, the women were the backbone of the congregation. That is no longer true where I serve now, and I hope it never will be again. Thank God for strong, faith-filled women who pray even when their men don’t, but when Israel’s strength lies in their women, something is dreadfully wrong.

Can you imagine Mr. Collins confronting King Saul, rebuking his disobedience, and then grabbing a sword and hacking King Agag into pieces? Father Mapple would have keelhauled him, Agag that is. I can’t imagine what he would do with someone like Mr. Collins. He probably would have simply walked away in disgust.

Dads, be a model of strong, masculine godliness for your children every day in your home. Take your children to church every Lord’s Day, and lead them in worship. They need to hear you sing, not timidly and not like a woman, but like a sailor, like a warrior, like a king. They need to hear you say, “Amen!”, to see you follow along in your Bible and pay attention during the sermon. They need you to ask them about it when you return home to see what they learned, because you are expecting them to learn, and they need to know that you are excited about what you are learning too. They need to see you smile and laugh, enjoying the fellowship of the saints, not scowling and dour. They need to see that the joy of the Lord is your strength.

Moms, help your children understand that Christianity is not a ladies’ social club where men are invited. This is God’s kingdom and ruled by a mighty King. Your sons are warriors, your daughters are shield maidens, and they are arrows in the hands of a warrior to be aimed, drawn, and fired downrange.

Brothers and sisters, it is an awesome privilege and duty to which we are called by our Lord. We need to bring the proper mindset. Christianity is not ridiculous, even if some of its representatives and popular portrayals may be. Laugh at the absurdity of weak sauce versions of Christianity, but do not let them determine your perspective or participation in the joyful service of the King. When Paul commanded the Corinthians to “quit like men” (play the man or be strong, 1Cor. 16:13), he did not mean pretend to pull a hamstring or get in touch with your feminine side, and he addressed that exhortation to the women too. It is for all of us, sons and daughters, to serve manfully, live joyfully, fight honorably, and die bravely. Boldly rejoice in Christ Jesus, the risen King! --JME

Saturday, August 19, 2023

A Medley of Thoughts on the Eve of the Lord's Day

Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day. This morning I finished my yearly rereading of The Lord of the Ring trilogy. It is always a bittersweet experience and puts me in a certain mood. “The Scouring of the Shire,” the next to last chapter in The Return of the King, is, arguably, the climax and point of the entire story. If it is not the central point, it is certainly a major one, and it never fails to fill my heart with hope. May the Lord raise up such noble hobbits in our own day to awaken the Shire from her slumber and consent to madness and folly! The next chapter, the last, describes the Ringbearers’ final journey to the Grey Havens. (Don’t email me and tell me I missed one. I’m quite aware, thank you very much.) If you can read that chapter without tears in your eyes, you are made of sterner stuff than me or simply are not paying attention.

I love the story of the Ring the more I read it. I read many books because they are assigned to me. Most advanced degrees are given mainly for persistence (and a bit of politicking) rather than creative or important work. (I’ve known too many people with doctorates to imagine intelligence has anything to do with it.)1 There’s nothing like a university to tempt a man to hate books, and many a child has been turned off reading because some foolish grown-up thought they ought to read an “important book” instead of a fairytale, which turns out to have been the really important book after all.

Do we think of the Lord’s Day in much the same way? Have we lost or obscured the wonder of the story of redemption and the grandeur of coming into the presence of God? Have the outward trappings of religion caused us to overlook the sheer delight of communion with Christ? If so, it is not religion, per se, that is to blame. The substance is delightful, but something is lacking in our communication of and contact with it.

The first time I visited Rivendell, I thought I would never get past the songs sung in its halls. They seemed to go on interminably. Now the songs that punctuate the entire trilogy are some of the most delightful, and oddly important, features of the story. Likewise, the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel used to seem to last forever, and the books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy were tedious, at best. But this morning as I finished Ezekiel once again, the picture of grace flowing from the Temple and becoming a mighty river that waters the whole earth was freshly precious to me. Have you noticed the Bible gets better the more you read it? If you haven’t noticed that, it’s at least partly my fault as your teacher. The Bible is not boring, and only a stuffy theologian could ever make it so.

It’s hard not to laugh at our self-importance in all things religious. Far more of us are Shirriffs than mighty men like Strider. This is not to say worship and religion are anything other than serious things. The problem is that we take ourselves seriously and Christ unseriously, and that is never more true than when we imagine that we are taking Christ seriously. What will our children remember about the Lord’s Day? Will it be a delightful memory to them, days of joy and celebration, or one of stiff collars, straight backed chairs, and parental hypocrisy? Have we given them Jesus, in all his splendor? Is the story of the gospel like the story of the great ring, so that our children would plead with us: “Read it again!”

The first thing to do may be to weep at our own stupidity, then confess it to our wives and children who already know all about it. Then we should laugh at the mess we have made and our neglect of God’s good gifts. Then we should get serious about enjoying the journey. What better thing do you have to occupy your heart and mind than God’s goodness and the Church’s praise on this holy day? Even the Fellowship on the road to the Black Gates paused regularly for a pipe and period of holy contemplation, no matter how brief the moment or bleak the situation may have seemed. The courts of God’s house are open, and if you listen carefully, you can already hear the heavenly choir as it sings. Orcs can wait until Monday morning. Come and rejoice in the glory of the true King. --JME

1 I often wonder whether anyone in their right mind has ever voluntarily chosen to pursue a terminal degree. Perhaps it ought to be like a call to Christian ministry and personal desire ought to be considered a potentially disqualifying factor.

Saturday, August 5, 2023

I Am Not Like Jesus

Every week I write a brief-ish devotional to help our congregation prepare for the Lord's Day. Occasionally I post a version of them here. This is the one for Saturday evening, August 5, 2023.

Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day. I don’t know who said it first, it has been attributed to many different people, but the saying is true and deserving of heartfelt agreement that: “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” Sin deceives and enslaves. It wants you to believe that it is harmless, that you can remain in control of it, that it’s not a big deal. Sin is a liar, and it makes a liar out of you. But no one is really convinced by the lies, no one, that is, except the person who is telling them. Everyone else knew that the emperor was naked. Deep down the emperor knew it too. But he needed to believe he was wearing beautiful clothes. He needed to believe that he was wise, because the only other option would be to admit that he was a fool.

“Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God” (WSC 14). Now most of us have enough trouble dealing with the transgression of the law to keep us busy for the rest of three lifetimes, even with the Spirit’s help, but it is the want of conformity unto that is the real punch in the gut. That means that insofar as I am not like Christ—whose character exemplifies, defines, and is revealed by God’s law—I am guilty of sin. Sin isn’t just what I do or fail to do. It is who and what I am. This means I am more sinful than I know, and the more I learn about Christ, the more sinful I will realize myself to be. This explains the paradox of sanctification: as I grow in my apprehension of God’s holiness and in my own experience and pursuit of holiness, I see more of my own unholiness by contrast. I feel more sinful even as I am actually becoming less so.

God is patient, but I am not. Even on my best day, my patience is not like his. I may be able to grit my teeth and put on a happy face, but that is not like God who delights in mercy and patience. God is kind, but I am not. Even at my most generous, my most compassionate, I am more likely to be kind to the lovely and good, whereas God has shown his kindness to the worst, including me. God is light and in him there is no darkness at all, but not so in my own heart where there are still many shadows. I want the light to drive out the darkness, I think, but I am afraid of what may be exposed there. Maybe it is better to make peace with the darkness, to leave it in the corners of my life, or so I tell myself, but there is no darkness with God. All is light and truth and goodness and purity with him.

The law of God is not a list of rules and requirements. The law is a “transcript” of God’s character, as Dr. Bahnsen used to say (and likely others before him). And the command of God’s law is to imitate God and to walk in love even as Christ loved us (Eph. 5:1-2). How are you doing with that? I hope you are doing better than me. I’ve got my hands full just trying to keep the lists of commandments, but they are not the point. The character of a divine image-bearer; that is what the law reveals and requires, and what it continually exposes is my want of conformity unto it. God help me. Thank God he has and is and will.

Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day, and we anticipate gathering together to confess our sins, to receive and hear God’s pardon, and to have our covenant with him renewed. We will confess God’s law, and we know we will be convicted by it. We pray for and welcome that conviction. But we do not fear it, because though we are convicted by the law, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Pardoned, delivered, and sanctified by the righteousness of Christ, we welcome the law as an ally, not an enemy. We delight in its truth, goodness, and beauty. We meditate day and night on its precepts. We seek to order our lives according to it. We hope and pray and strive to see our character more and more defined by it and not by what is natural to us.

The Lord’s Day is for sinners. They are the only people Jesus came to save. I am that sinner, and so are you. So come to Jesus in humble, heartfelt repentance and faith. Put away your pride, your foolishness, your delusions about yourself and all the wisdom, gifts, and accomplishments you imagine you can claim. Admit the truth, that you are naked, a naked fool parading down main street. Jesus will forgive naked fools who know they are naked. He will clothe you himself, make you a son in God’s house, and welcome you to the party of a prodigal who has returned home. Do not listen to the folly of your own heart. Listen to Christ, to God’s law, to his summons, and welcome home. --JME

Friday, August 4, 2023

1 Corinthians 11:23-26: The Memorial of Christ


There is an irony involved in our participation in the Lord’s Supper that ought not to be overlooked. In order to participate in the Lord’s Supper in most Christian churches, a person must demonstrate that they understand what it means. And if we are growing, we spend much of the rest of our Christian life discovering how little we actually understood about our union with Christ.

If you’ve ever had a paradigm shift in your theology, you know what I mean. Conversion is like this for those who come to faith as adults. You suddenly see the world in an entirely new way, and it brings a radical, permanent reorientation. The doctrines of grace were like this for many of us. I remember when the sovereignty of God finally came crashing into my consciousness. I called my friend and told him, “Either Calvinism is true or the Bible is not, and I know the Bible is true.” There was no going back. I had to accept that God is not only in charge but truly in control of everything, or I had to stop being a Christian, and I knew I could not not be a Christian, because I already knew Jesus rose from the dead.

These types of paradigm shifts are seismic events in experience and consciousness. This is why Lewis described himself as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England” when the Divine mercy finally arrested and subdued him (Surprised by Joy). An older preacher described it to me this way: “I readily admit that I could be wrong about many things and that I still have much to learn. But I can’t un-see what I have seen.”

At the risk of over-promising, I hope that a few of you are going to have a paradigm shift this morning, because what we’re going to look at with regard to the Lord’s Supper certainly was for me when I first learned it. I have longed to address this over the last few years, and I have alluded to it a few times in talks at the Table and other sermons and articles. But today I want to develop the idea more fully, albeit still incompletely and inadequately. The holy Supper is a covenant meal, a sacramental sign. Unpacking what that means could easily involve an entire series of sermons. My original plan for this sermon was too ambitious. Today I want to simply introduce you to one idea: what it means when Jesus says, Do this in remembrance of Me.

The New Covenant Meal

The holy Supper is a covenant meal. Much could be said, but for now let it suffice that the Eucharist is the consummation of all prior meals in which God’s grace was received and celebrated by his people, and it is the type and anticipation of the marriage Supper of the Lamb. In one way it is the marriage supper, albeit prior to the resurrection. Just as the disciples truly ate with Christ in the Upper Room, so we truly eat with Christ—and we feed on him—every time we come to the Table. We are not waiting for fellowship. We have fellowship with the risen Lord, right now, and we experience it in true and tangible ways at the Table every Lord’s Day.

In the Eucharist we see the Passover, the peace offering, and the tribute offering. We are met here by Melchizedek, the King of Righteousness and Priest of Peace, coming to refresh us with bread and wine. We are summoned with the elders of Israel to the holy mountain to feast in the presence of God. Christ comes to multiply the loaves so that his one Body and sacrifice feeds a multitude of people in the wilderness. I meet people I don’t trust in parking lots, but God welcomes his friends and family into his house and blesses them with grace and food.

In the words of institution, the Lord says: This cup is the new covenant in my blood. These words echo Moses at the ratification of Israel’s covenant with Yahweh at Mt. Sinai: And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words (Ex. 24:8). Israel was sprinkled with the blood of the ascension and peace offerings. Their sin had already been atoned for, and they had been delivered from slavery in Egypt. Their enemies had been drowned in the Red Sea. Exodus 24 was not about conversion but communion. It was not about their initial justification but rather their corporate consecration in relationship with God. The blood was applied to them, and they ate. This is the biblical and covenantal background for understanding what is going on in the Lord’s Supper.

Our sin offering has already been slain. He does not need to be re-offered on an altar. But his blood is being re-applied to us. The congregation is sprinkled with the blood of the covenant, and peace offerings are made and celebrated. Our covenant with God is being ratified and renewed every time we come to the Table. The words of institution demonstrate that this is so. This is the blood of the covenant. The Supper is not a bizarre and mysterious ritual. It is covenant renewal. We are the Israel of God, called to Mt. Zion for the blood of the covenant to once again be applied. Sacrifices of consecration and fellowship are being offered, and we are being reminded of and reconfirmed in our obligation to live according to the covenant.

“This covenant is called new in reference to the Mosaic covenant. The latter was ratified by the blood of animals; the new, by the blood of the eternal Son of God; the one in itself could secure only temporal benefits and the remission of ceremonial offences; the other secures eternal redemption, and the remission of sin in the sight of God. As the Hebrews entered into covenant with God when the blood of the heifer was sprinkled upon them, and thereby bound themselves to be obedient to the Mosaic institutions, and as God thereby graciously bound himself to confer upon them all its promised blessings on condition of that obedience; so, in the Lord’s supper, those who receive the cup profess to embrace the covenant of grace, and bind themselves to obedience to the gospel; and God binds himself to confer on them all the benefits of redemption.” –Hodge, First Corinthians, 227–228

This is not a Roman Catholic notion of the Supper. It is a biblical view. The Presbyterian Hodge goes on to say, “In this ordinance therefore Christ is set forth as a sacrifice which at once makes expiation for sin and ratifies the covenant of grace” (229). Jesus is not re-sacrificed as our sin offering. But the Supper is a presentation of Christ who is our sacrifice. It is a presentation of the blood by which we have been cleansed and are consecrated again in covenant with God.

Unto Christ’s Memorial

Almost every English translation has rendered the last clause in vv.24-25 the same way: do this in remembrance of Me. Let me say clearly that this translation is perfectly acceptable. I am not suggesting your Bible is wrong or that I know better than translators who have worked on this text for many years. But I do want to explain why I think this translation is easily misunderstood. The problem is not how the text is traditionally rendered but in what we assume the words mean.

First, we need to recognize the key word in this clause, remembrance (ἀνάμνησις), is not a verb in the original text; it is a noun. I think most of us have assumed it is a verb. We are supposed to remember Jesus as we partake, right? That’s true. We should remember Jesus. That’s always appropriate. It’s just not what Jesus is saying here. Not directly. He is not saying, “Remember me when you do this.” He says, “This is the remembrance of me.” There is a difference, a big one.

That this word is a noun is obscured in most English translations, but you can see it in Young’s Literal Translation even if you can’t read Greek: this do ye -- to the remembrance of me. The Supper is the remembrance of Christ. This is not a command about how to partake; it is about what we are doing in partaking. The command is at the beginning of the clause: do this (τοῦτο ποιεῖτε). The command is not: remember Jesus or think about Jesus, although it should be obvious that we ought to do that too. The command is: do this. Do what? Eat the bread and drink the cup. Why? Because this is the remembrance of Christ.

Second, the Greek word used here helps us see what is really being said. The noun which is translated remembrance appears four times in the NT: once in v.24, once in v.25, and once in Luke 22:19 in the institution of the Lord’s Supper found there. In other words, three of the four uses of this word in the NT are in the phrase in question, so they don’t tell us much about how we ought to understand it. But that’s not all the evidence we have.

The one other time this word is used in the NT is in Hebrews 10:3. Speaking of the annual sacrifices of the OT, the writer says: But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. Now were the continual offerings of the OT system to help the Israelites remember that they were sinners? No doubt they did that. Were the yearly sacrifices on the Day of Atonement to remind the Israelites who might have forgotten that the Lord pardoned them? No, the yearly sacrifices were a commemoration of that fact. They were a memorial of atonement and grace.

In much the same way we celebrate memorial days in this nation. We do not celebrate Independence Day because we forget that we no longer serve the House of Hanover. We don’t have Memorial Day because we forget that our family and neighbors lost loved ones in military service. Now, of course, later generations may forget the significance of these events and the dates which remember them. But those days are not just to jog the memory. They are to commemorate, honor, and represent the events of which they are the remembrance.

The specific word translated the remembrance in vv.24-25 is only used four times in the NT but at least four times in the Septuagint as well. It appears in the heading of two psalms1 but most significantly in Leviticus 24:7 and Numbers 10:10.2 Leviticus 24:7 refers to the showbread of the Tabernacle and the frankincense which was to be sprinkled on it “that it may be on the bread for a memorial (εἰς ἀνάμνησιν), an offering made by fire to the Lord.” The same preposition and the same noun used in our sermon text is translated: for a memorial. Numbers 10:10 refers to the blowing of the silver trumpets as burnt offerings and peace offerings were made when Israel left camp. It says: “they shall be a memorial for you before your God: I am the Lord your God.” This passage is especially interesting because the Greek says these offerings would be a memorial of you (for you) but in our sermon text Jesus says the Supper is the memorial (remembrance) of Me.

These uses of the word for remembrance in both Hebrews 10 and the Septuagint indicate that the idea being communicated is not remember Me but the memorial of Christ. Remembrance is not a verb and Christ the direct object. Remembrance is a noun with the (definite) article and the reference to Christ (Me) is a possessive pronoun. In other words, we might more clearly translate the phrase Do this for (unto) My memorial.3

Third—and I will be brief here for the sake of time—the word from which this word for remembrance is derived further confirms this interpretation. The word in vv.24-25 is a noun with the prefix ana–, probably here signifying again. The underlying word (μνημόσυνον) can refer to a memorial or memorial offering (Lev. 2:2, 9, 16) and is used that way frequently in Scripture. The Name of Yahweh is his “memorial to all generations” (Ex. 3:15; cf. Hos. 12:5). Passover would be to Israel “a memorial… to all generations” (Ex. 12:14; cf. 13:9). The story of the woman who anointed Jesus at Simon’s house will forever be told wherever the gospel is preached “as a memorial to her” (Mk. 14:9; Matt. 26:13), and Cornelius’s prayers and alms ascended to heaven “for a memorial before God” (Acts 10:4).

Fourth, and finally on this point, Reformed theologians have recognized that memorial is the proper sense of this phrase, even if it has been misunderstood by many in the pulpit and pew. 

“As the Passover was a perpetual commemoration of the deliverance out of Egypt, and a prediction of the coming and death of the Lamb of God, who was to bear the sins of the world; so the Lord’s supper is at once the commemoration of the death of Christ and a pledge of his coming the second time without sin onto salvation.” –Hodge, 229-230 

“Do this in remembrance of me. Hence the Supper is a memorial (μνημόσυνον) appointed as a help to our weakness…” –John Calvin, Commentary on First Corinthians, 381-382, cf. 3844

The Sacramental Remembrance of the Holy Supper

Who remembers what in the signs of the covenant? If we are correct that Jesus refers to the Supper as the remembrance of him, “my memorial,” then we need to consider what the function of this memorial is in terms of the covenant. Does it remind us of Jesus’ death for us? Most certainly. Is that the primary function of covenant signs, to remind us of something? No, it is not.

Let’s think about covenant signs for a minute. This will not be an exhaustive review, only enough to make the point. Yahweh put a rainbow in the sky after the flood, a colorful bow pointed toward heaven. What did he say about it? 

Gen. 9:12-16: And God said: “This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. The rainbow shall be in the cloud, and I will look on it to remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.”

Every time you see a rainbow, you should remember God’s promise, and you should remind your children of what that rainbow means and why it is there. But God didn’t put it in the sky to remind you of his promise. He put it there to remind himself. God is all-knowing, so we can safely assume he doesn’t forget things. But he put a physical sign in the sky to show you that he remembers.

What about the blood on the doorposts during Passover? Why was it there? You can’t even see it from the inside. But it wasn’t put there so that you could see it.

Ex. 12:23: For Yahweh will pass through to strike the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, Yahweh will pass over the door and not allow the destroyer to come into your houses to strike you.

God gave the Grim Reaper free reign to slaughter first born children in Egypt that night, but when God saw the blood, he would protect that house from the destroyer.

What about the signs God puts on his people? What is the significance of circumcision and baptism? Is it to remind us of God’s covenant promise? They do that. But is that their primary significance? No. Before God brings judgment, he marks his people as he marked Israel’s houses.

Ezek. 9:3b-6: And He called to the man clothed with linen, who had the writer’s inkhorn at his side; and Yahweh said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.” To the others He said in my hearing, “Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity. Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary.” 

Rev. 7:2-3: Then I saw another angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees till we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”

Now do you understand the significance of being sealed with the Holy Spirit (2Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14)? Some of you can’t remember your own baptism. But you don’t have to. You are marked with baptismal waters as a sign that you belong to God. You may forget, but he will not.

We could continue to develop this point, but let these connections suffice for now. What is the (primary) significance of the Church’s participation in the remembrance/memorial of Christ? Is it to remind us of his death? No. It is to remind the Father. If we study the OT passages referenced earlier, we will see that the memorial offering is presented to God as a testimony to the covenant and promise he has given to us. The Lord sees the blood of the covenant marking his house, and his judgment passes over us. The Church holds up Christ as a reminder to the Father that our sins have been atoned for, propitiation has been made, and reconciliation has been achieved. No longer the ungodly, now we are the beloved united to the Beloved One. This is what it means for God to remember his people and no longer to remember our sins. It means to look upon us with his favor, to see the mark of the covenant in and on us, and to spare us according to his mercy and grace.5

Pastoral Application: The Command is to Do This

My purpose is not to tell you not to think about Christ as we partake of the Supper or to suggest that there is not a precious reminder to us in this ritual. My purpose is to help you realize what the Supper is and what it is we are doing as we partake of it. Soon we will study vv.27-32 which teach us to examine ourselves. But many Christians have taken this to mean almost that the significance of the Supper lies in our personal remembrance and worthy participation. That is not the case. Should you partake worthily? Yes! But there is an objectivity to the Supper that needs to be recognized and embraced. The command is do this, and doing this is the memorial of Christ.6

We are not supposed to partake of the Supper like pietists, yet that is what we have often done in Reformed and Presbyterian circles. May I point out, gently and respectfully, this is part of the reason some struggled with the decision to sing a psalm and read Scripture during the Supper, even though that is what was done in Calvin’s day? By the time we come to the Table, we have had a Saturday evening email, Sunday morning preparation, and roughly 90 minutes of gospel liturgy to prepare for the Lord’s Supper. But we need another four minutes of musical interlude (for which there is actually no biblical authority) in order to properly focus our minds and avoid eating and drinking judgment. The command is do this, not remember me. The Supper is the memorial.

The Eucharist is not a sign on a historic battlefield reminding us of what happened there. It is the proclamation of Christ by the Church in anticipation of his return and the consummation of salvation history.7 In what way is the Supper in remembrance of Christ? Paul explains it in v.26.8 For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes. It does not say, “As often as you concentrate hard and have the proper thoughts and do all of this in exactly the right way, then the Supper will be a testimony of Christ.” It says as often as you eat… and drink. That is why the Corinthians’ abuse of the Supper was so egregious. It is not private, not personal, not subjective. The Supper is an objective act of covenant proclamation, appealing to the Father on the basis of the atoning sacrifice of Christ to pardon us, deliver us, and bring the work and promises of salvation to their full and glorious end.9


We should take the Supper seriously, and taking it seriously means taking it covenantally. Let me speak to the young children who are communicant members: When you partake of the holy Supper, God remembers what Jesus did for you, and he remembers his promise to save you. That should make you happy, not fearful. Let me speak to the young moms: Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming that Christ died for you. The Father sees that blood and remembers you, even if you are a little distracted and frazzled trying to wrestle a baby into submission. Let me speak to the theology nerds: The Supper is what it is, and its significance has nothing to do with how much you know about it. The sign is as objectively true for the most ignorant baptized person in this room as the blood on the doorposts was for every Israelite’s house.

Christian, do not despair of your inadequacies in coming to this Table. It is not a banquet for judgment but a celebration of grace. Do not treat it as if it were merely a meal for your belly. That is what the Corinthians did, and they fell under judgment as a result. But receive it with joyful expectation. The Destroyer is coming, but he will pass over you because you are marked by the blood of Christ. Do not fear. Rather, rejoice with trembling. Christ is crucified, he is resurrected, and he is glorified. He reigns in heaven, and one day he will return. Lord, remember your people! He has, he will. The Supper is a testimony to it. So come, and welcome to Jesus Christ. Amen.


1 Psa. 69 (70):1: … τῷ Δαυεὶδ εἰς ἀνάμνησιν… Psa. 37 (38):1: … εἰς ἀνάμνησιν περὶ σαββάτου.

2 Lev. 24:7: καὶ ἐπιθήσετε ἐπὶ τὸ θέμα λίβανον καθαρὸν καὶ ἅλα, καὶ ἔσονται εἰς ἄρτους εἰς ἀνάμνησιν προκείμενα τῷ κυρίῳ. Num. 10:10: καὶ ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τῆς εὐφροσύνης ὑμῶν καὶ ἐν ταῖς ἑορταῖς ὑμῶν καὶ ἐν ταῖς νουμηνίαις ὑμῶν σαλπιεῖτε ταῖς σάλπιγξιν ἐπὶ τοῖς ὁλοκαυτώμασιν καὶ ἐπὶ ταῖς θυσίαις τῶν σωτηρίων ὑμῶν, καὶ ἔσται ὑμῖν ἀνάμνησις ἔναντι τοῦ θεοῦ ὑμῶν· ἐγὼ Κύριος ὁ θεὸς ὑμῶν. 

3 Cf. Douay Rheims: “This do for the commemoration of me.” Peshitta (Aramaic): “thus you shall do for my Memorial.”

4 The editor to Calvin’s commentary publishes a helpful footnote: “It is worthy of notice, that our Author has made use of the same Greek term (when commenting on 1 Cor. 5:8) in reference to the Passover, which was intended partly as a memorial (μνημόσυνον.) See p. 189. The term is of frequent occurrence in the same sense in Herodotus, and occasionally in other Classical authors.—Ed.”

5 “This calling into the presence of God, this bringing to life before God, this recalling of the past, this is, on the other side, effective. It has a purpose, it is intended to effect something: that God may remember—mercifully or punishingly. God’s remembrance is, namely…, never a simple remembering of something, but always and without exception ‘an effecting and creating event’. When Luke 1.72 says that God remembers his covenant, this means that he is now fulfilling the eschatological covenant promise. When God remembers the iniquities of Babylon the Great (Rev. 18.5), this means that he is now releasing the eschatological judgment. When the sinner ‘is not to be remembered’ at the resurrection, this means that he will have no part in it (Ps. Sol. 3.11). And when God no longer remembers sin, when he forgets it (Jer. 31.34; Heb. 8.12; 10.17), this means that he forgives it. God’s remembrance is always an action in mercy or judgment.” –Joachim Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus (London: SCM Press, 1966), 248-249. Cf. Calvin’s observation that the Supper is a memorial of accomplished redemption: “Christ himself, when he seals our assurance of pardon in the Supper, does not bid his disciples stop short at that act, but sends them to the sacrifice of his death; intimating, that the Supper is the memento, or, as it is commonly expressed, the memorial from which they may learn that the expiatory victim by which God was to be appeased was to be offered only once.” –Calvin, Institutes IV.18.6.

6 “The ἀνάμνησις commandment is therefore fulfilled by the proclamation of the death of Jesus at the Lord’s supper.” –Jeremias, 253.

7 “‘Until he comes’ apparently alludes to the maranatha of the liturgy with which the community prays for the eschatological coming of the Lord. This means that the death of the Lord is not proclaimed at every celebration of the meal as a past event but as an eschatological event, as the beginning of the New Covenant. The proclamation of the death of Jesus is not therefore intended to call to the remembrance of the community the event of the Passion; rather this proclamation expresses the vicarious death of Jesus as the beginning of the salvation time and prays for the coming of the consummation. As often as the death of the Lord is proclaimed at the Lord’s supper, and the maranatha rises upwards, God is reminded of the unfulfilled climax of the work of salvation ‘until (the goal is reached, that) he comes’.” –Jeremias, 253.

8 Cf. Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology III.435-436.

9 “To summarize my argument: it seems to me certain that the command for repetition may no longer be interpreted on the basis of hellenistic presuppositions, but must be interpreted against a Palestinian background. ‘In remembrance of me’ can then scarcely mean ‘that you may remember me’, but most probably ‘that God may remember me’. This means that the command to repeat the rite is not a summons to the disciples to preserve the memory of Jesus and be vigilant (‘repeat the breaking of bread so that you may not forget me’), but it is an eschatologically oriented instruction: ‘Keep joining yourselves together as the redeemed community by the table rite, that in this way God may be daily implored to bring about the consummation in the parousia.’” –Jeremias, 254-255.